Former prime minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstat spoke at the launch of the Liberal campaign for the European elections yesterday. (Read a report on the launch here.)
Euractiv reports him as attacking members of the Socialist and Christian Democrat parties as “silent Eurosceptics”. He is right that there are some members of those nominally pro-European parties who do not agree with that aspect of their party’s position, but that is not all. On one of the most important issues facing Europe, there is silence within his own party, too.
Missing from the razzmatazz of the campaign launch was any suggestion of who the Liberals want to see as the next president of the European Commission. They have a candidate for president of the European Parliament – Graham Watson MEP – but on the identity of who should fill the important job? Nothing.
There is an argument that it is not within the power of the smaller parties to create a contest for this post. The only credible alternative to the Christian Democrat backing for the re-election of Jose Manuel Barroso would be a Socialist nominee, but the Socialists have not chosen anybody. This is certainly the view of the Greens, for example.
But are the Liberals content to see European politics characterised as a contest between the big two parties amid a fringe of lots of smaller ones? Or do they aspire to be a player themselves in their own right? Their silence reveals their weakness.
And furthermore, look at other aspects of the Liberal manifesto. They are happy to talk about “the values and principles of liberal democracy” when discussing the institutions, i.e. what other people should do. Why not when discussing what they themselves should do? They are not alone in European politics in ducking this issue, but that was not my understanding of what liberal politics was meant to mean.